U. S. Department of Agriculture actions on Earth Day 2005 include:
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns traveling to Ellendale, Minnesota to highlight the President's Wetlands Initiative;
Noting record amounts of hazardous fuels restoration work accomplished under the Healthy Forests Initiative;
Recognizing 70 years of conservation programs since the Dust Bowl Days;
Investing an additional $143.4 million in water and wastewater infrastructure projects in 29 states throughout rural America;
Senior USDA officials participating in Earth Day activities in more than 25 states
FOCUS ON WETLANDS
In April 2004, President Bush announced a Wetlands Imitative that goes beyond the Federal policy of "no net loss." USDA's National Resources Inventory (NRI) data for 1997 and 2002 showed that the "no net loss" goal had been achieved and there was no longer an overall net loss of wetland occurring within the contiguous U.S. Based in part on the accomplishments documented by the NRI data, the President set new wetland goals for 2010 and directed the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Transportation, EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to:
Restore and create at least one million acres of wetlands;
Improve the quality of at least one million acres of wetlands;
Protect at least one million acres of wetlands.
PRESERVING AMERICA'S WETLANDS--The Role of USDA
USDA administers many programs that restore, improve and protect wetlands on private lands. The primary programs that support the President's goals are the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
The WRP is a voluntary program that offers landowners an opportunity to restore, enhance and protect wetlands through permanent easements, 30-year easements and restoration cost-share agreements. USDA's goal is to maximize wildlife habitat and wetland functions and values on every acre enrolled in the program. The WRP currently has 1,470,000 acres enrolled and NRCS projects it will enroll an additional 189,000 acres by the end of the 2004 fiscal year.
In June 2004, the first nationally approved Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program(WREP) partnership was established. The Lower Missouri River WREP project in Nebraska will enhance the state's wetland restoration efforts. Partners in the project set a goal to enroll 18,800 acre for a total cost of $26 million through 2007. The project will create a continuous wildlife corridor; provide habitat for numerous species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and plants; allow for a buffer strip zone between the river and cropland to improve water quality; restore additional habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon; and increase the natural flood storage capacity of the river system.
Through WREP, NRCS works with partners to further their common wetland goals and objectives within the requirements of WRP. WREP project partners can leverage resources and provide additional incentives to landowners to restore, protect, and enhance wetland ecosystems.
The Conservation Reserve Program is a voluntary program for agricultural landowners that provides annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland. The program has multiple options for restoring and protecting wetland acres, and it establishes a permanent cover on eligible environmentally sensitive cropland and marginal pasture land (including cropped wetlands) through long-term rental contracts with agricultural landowners. A total of 34,819,557 acres are enrolled in CRP nationally, with more than 3,943,000 acres helping to protect wetlands and related areas.
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) uses unique state and federal partnerships that allow participants to receive incentive payments for installing specific conservation practices. Through CREP, producers can receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible land. Nationwide, close to 646,000 acres are enrolled in CREP, including about 92,000 wetland and buffer acres.
Under the Minnesota CREP II agreement, producers must, for certain practices, also enroll in Minnesota's Re-invest in Minnesota (RIM) easement program, which establishes 45-year or permanent protection agreements on the land. Sign-up for the Minnesota CREP II is scheduled for June 6, 2005, and will continue until enrollment goals are attained, or through Dec. 31, 2007, whichever comes first.
Since April, 2004, 371,826 acres of wetland have been restored, enhanced or protected through USDA programs. Government-wide, 832,000 acres of wetlands have been restored, created, protected or improved.
Based on new data in the National Resources Inventory (NRI) agricultural land accounted for a net wetland gain of about 263,000 acres between 1997 and 2003. Between 1997 and 2003, agricultural producers across the nation achieved an average net gain of 44,000 acres of wetland each and every year. Nationally, there are 111 million wetland acres on nonfederal lands. The NRI data shows that since 1997 annual wetland losses on all lands have been on a decline while annual wetland gains have been increasing. Between 1997 and 2001 wetland annual gain was 33,000 acres per year. Between 2001 and 2003 the annual loss declined to 30,000 acres while the annual gain nearly doubled to 66,000 acres.
NRCS annually conducts the NRI, a scientifically based statistical survey of the Nation's natural resources. The NRI provides information on the status, condition, and trends of land, soil, water, and related resources on private lands. The results of the NRI are coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Wetland Inventory Status and Trends.
HEALTHY FORESTS INITIATIVE
On December 3, 2003, President Bush signed into law the Healthy Forests Restoration Act to reduce the threat of destructive wildfires while upholding environmental standards and encouraging early public input during review and planning processes. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act:
Strengthens public participation in developing high priority forest health projects;
Reduces the complexity of environmental analysis allowing federal land agencies to use the best science available to actively manage land under their protection;
Provides a more effective appeals process encouraging early public participation in project planning; and
Issues clear guidance for court action against forest health projects.
The FY 2006 budget is faithful to commitments made to sustain strong wildfire fighting capability, reduce the risk of fire and assist communities. It includes $281 million for hazardous fuels reduction; $676 million for preparedness; and $700 million for suppression activities, which provides funding at the 10-year average adjusted for inflation.
RECORD AMOUNTS OF HAZARDOUS FUELS RESTORATION WORK ACCOMPLIHSED
Since 2000, funding for hazardous fuels reduction has quadrupled to nearly $500 million this year for federal, state, tribal, and private projects. For the National Fire Plan, $1.7 billion has been requested to support the plan.
In 2002, Federal land management agencies reduced fuels on a record 2.25 million acres. This record was broken in 2003 when 2.6 million acres were treated, and again in 2004 when 4.2 million acres were treated (including 1.1 million acres treated as a secondary benefit to other activities).
The wildland-urban interface (WUI) and public and private lands of concern to communities at risk are a top priority for treatment. Approximately 60 percent of forest restoration dollars has been invested in this area. Between 2001-2004, Federal agencies increased fuels and other treatments on land in the WUI from 775,000 acres to 2.3 million acres, more than doubling WUI acres treated. The FY 2006 budget for hazardous fuels reduction provides for the treatment of approximately 1.9 million WUI acres.
From 2001-2004, federal land management agencies treated a total of 11 million acres. By the end of FY 2005, that total will come to nearly 15 million acres.
CUT GREENHOUSE GAS INTENSITY BY 18 PERCENT
President Bush has committed to meeting the challenge of rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere by reducing the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output by 18 percent by 2012 compared to 2002.
USDA is helping farmers and ranchers do their part through programs such as the CRP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which helps landowners overcome natural resource challenges that impact soil, water, grazing lands, wetlands and wildlife habitat management. In 2005, more than 50,000 producers are participating in EQIP, covering more than 20 million acres of land.
RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY CONSERVATION PROGRAMS
The President has called for tax incentives totaling $4.1 billion through 2009 to spur the use of clean, renewable energy, and energy-efficient technologies, including biomass. During the Bush Administrations, USDA's Rural Development has invested $163.5 million in bioenergy and biomass projects through its business and utility programs.
In FY 2004, USDA Rural Development, with the support of the Department of Energy, selected 167 applicants from 26 states for the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Improvement grant program (Section 9006 of the 2002 Farm Bill) to receive $22.8 million dollars in grant funds. These funds help to reduce energy costs and increase opportunities for rural businesses, farmers and ranchers. Grant awards supported wind power, anaerobic digesters, solar and geothermal energy, and other bioenergy related systems.
In FY 2004, USDA provided incentives with a value of approximately $150 million for purchases of additional commodities to expand bioenergy production under Section 9010 of the 2002 Farm Bill and, with the Department of Energy, made awards of $25 million under the Biomass R&D program (Section 9008 of the 2002 Farm Bill). USDA also continued a national educational program on the use of biodiesel fuel (Section 9004 of the 2002 Farm Bill).
IMPROVING DRINKING WATER QUALITY
Since 2001, $6.5 billion was provided in loans or grants to rural communities to assist with community water and wastewater infrastructure. Many of the communities receiving the funding are struggling to address environmental concerns brought on by improper treatment of sewage or unsafe or unreliable water, and many are among our nation's poorest rural communities. In total, 5,475 communities received water and wastewater assistance in FY 2001-04.